CUNY vs. SUNY: Which Should You Choose?

Trying to pick between CUNY and SUNY schools? Uncover what major differences separate these school systems from one another.
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Doug Wintemute is a writer who focuses on higher learning and entertainment. Since 2014, he has contributed to content and editorial work for award-winning publications. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum l...
Updated on December 19, 2023
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  • The CUNY system comprises 25 schools and about 225,000 students across New York City.
  • The SUNY system has 64 campuses and more than 450,000 students throughout the state.
  • CUNY and SUNY schools offer a similar variety of school and degree types, tuition and acceptance rates.
  • CUNY and SUNY schools differ primarily in size, location, and campus environment.

Home to two of the largest university and college systems in the nation, New York offers you plenty of choices when it comes to postsecondary education.

The City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) have nearly 90 campuses between them and over 675,000 students.

With so many options available, choosing the right school may be difficult. In this guide, we take a closer look at SUNY and CUNY colleges. We'll highlight the major differences between the schools to help you make an informed decision.

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What Should You Know About CUNY Schools?

A network of 25 colleges stretching throughout the five boroughs of New York City (NYC), CUNY schools make education more affordable and accessible for state and city residents.

The college system enrolls more than 225,000 students and awards more than 50,000 degrees annually— making it the largest public city university in the country.

While CUNY colleges offer more than 2,800 programs at various levels and disciplines, the emphasis on state-relevant studies contributes to over 80% of students remaining in New York after graduation.

What Should You Know About SUNY Schools?

Comprising 64 campuses spread across the state of New York, SUNY has educated more than 3 million students throughout its 65+ years.

Each year, SUNY colleges enroll more than 450,000 students in over 7,500 programs.

SUNY schools make up the largest university network in the nation. With campuses in nearly every corner and major city in the state, New York residents have options nearby no matter where they live.

CUNY vs. SUNY: 5 Key Differences

While CUNY and SUNY colleges have similar aims, they have significant differences that may sway your decision between them. Here are some of the ways they differ.

1. Location

You can find all 25 CUNY colleges within the New York City borders. Each of the five boroughs has at least one campus to serve the city's residents.

SUNY schools, conversely, extend throughout the entire state. Each of New York's major cities has a SUNY campus in or near it, except for NYC.

2. Tuition

Tuition prices at SUNY and CUNY colleges only differ slightly. As a New York resident, you pay $2,400 per semester at a CUNY community college and $2,565 per semester for an associate degree program at a SUNY school.

You'll pay $3,465 per semester at a CUNY senior college and $3,535 per semester in a bachelor's program at a SUNY college.

3. Number of Schools and Degree Programs

The CUNY college network includes seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges, and seven honors and graduate schools. CUNY schools have more than 2,800 programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

SUNY colleges include community colleges, research institutions, and specialized universities. You can choose from over 5,000 programs, including associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees.

4. Acceptance Rates

Both SUNY and CUNY schools have a mix of more accommodating and competitive schools. Some have open admission policies that accept all eligible learners, while others have specialized requirements with lower acceptance rates.

Both systems have similar academic profiles as well, with the student grade averages hovering between 88-93 at the senior and university colleges and high 70s at the community colleges.

5. Student Body

In the fall of 2022, total enrollment at SUNY colleges exceeded 360,000. The system also has nearly 2 million participants in professional development programs.

CUNY enrolls over 225,000 students, most of whom graduate and enter the state's workforce. The student population captures the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of NYC.

SUNY colleges tend to have a more traditional college environment with more suburban campuses. CUNY schools tend to attract commuter students who travel to NYC for school or work.

CUNY vs. SUNY: Which Is Right for You?

Your choice between CUNY and SUNY schools comes down to your individual preferences. Both systems have schools with a greater emphasis on academics and those with more of a focus on accommodation and student support programs.

If you're looking for schools with high-quality sports programs or diverse student organizations, both CUNY and SUNY systems will satisfy you.

Most differences between the systems result from the school locations. CUNY schools offer a more city-integrated school life, while SUNY schools have both urban and rural settings.

As a CUNY student, you may encounter more classroom diversity and have more city-based opportunities. In a SUNY school, you might find a more traditional college-town-campus environment.

Frequently Asked Questions About CUNY and SUNY Schools

Is SUNY or CUNY better?

While both SUNY and CUNY systems likely have several schools that appeal to you, your decision between them may ultimately come down to your preferred location.

A CUNY school will suit you better if you want to live and study in NYC. If you want to study in New York state outside of NYC, you will want a SUNY college.

What is the most prestigious CUNY school?

There are several highly regarded and prestigious CUNY schools, including most of the senior and graduate colleges. Of the schools on that list, Baruch College, Brooklyn College, Queens College, Hunter College, and the City College of New York have some of the best reputations.

What is the most prestigious SUNY school?

Over the years, many SUNY schools have developed reputations for running high-quality programs and going above and beyond for students.

Overall, several SUNY schools are prestigious, including Stony Brook University, Binghamton University, and the University at Buffalo.

Is it harder to get into SUNY or CUNY?

The admission requirements vary considerably between each different SUNY and CUNY school. Both systems have schools with open admissions and schools with much more selective admissions processes.

SUNY Stony Brook University has the lowest acceptance rate overall at 49%, whereas CUNY Baruch College has the next lowest at 51%. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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